“The Paradox: Gain All by Surrendering Everything”
Isaiah 66:1-14

We have arrived at the last chapter of Isaiah. We started this book on the first Sunday of January, 2018! We will complete it next Sunday. Then we will begin a book from the New Testament. We will be reading through the book of Philippians. 

Isaiah’s last chapter begins with God’s continued declaration against ritualism. God isn’t against the rebuilding of a temple, in fact, He assists in the procedure. His discontent is with the hearts of those who worship Him while they are in it. 

Again, God reminds the Israelites that He esteems those with a “humble and contrite spirit,”  and who tremble at His word. I think that statement is self explanatory. The entire book of Isaiah has been centered around this simple message. 
The main problem for the Israelites and humans in general, is that of self-exaltation. Somewhere along the line, we think that the best way to solve the basic problem of our extreme fragility is to lift ourselves up, to gain power. That way we think we can protect ourselves and get what we think we need. This approach was being used in the temple. The religious elite had decided they understood what God wanted and were doing what God required, not out of love and devotion but in order to demonstrate their power and to manipulate divine power. 

It may look good in human eyes, but not in God’s eyes. Verse 2 tells us that God is looking for the humble and contrite in spirit. Note the prepositional phrase, “in spirit.” Somehow we think that if someone is humble and contrite they are weak. Yet, that is not what God is saying at all. God is looking at the spirit of the person. One can be strong and still be humble and contrite. 

God’s focus is on the approach the Israelites are taking. They are trying to exalt themselves, and God is reminding them that only He is to be exalted. For those who use rituals to enhance their own power or to satisfy their own needs, basically means they want things their own way. Even when the ritual they are using comes directly from God. 

Verse 12 tells us that God has an answer for those who blame Him for not listening and not responding. God states that in fact, it is the other way around. The Israelites have devised their own way of relating to God and so when God answers them with a different kind of response then what they expect, God is blamed for not responding. 

This reminds me of a chaplain visit I made at Miles. An older Catholic gentleman asked for a visit. I came to his room and apologized for not being a priest but I would be glad to pray for him. 
He opened up and shared his lament of how he had been sick for a long time and where was God, why wasn’t God listening to his prayers? I let him share and after the question of God not listening or answering I asked the man if he really wanted an answer? Because I felt the man knew the answer, he just didn’t want to hear it. He looked at me directly and with sincere eyes said he was ready to hear. My response was similar to Isaiah’s message here. God hasn’t moved, He is still there, He doesn’t change, He is listening and answering. Often when we don’t hear Him it’s because of us. Sin is the first thing we need to investigate, then when we have dealt with that, it’s our spirit we need to check. Are we humble and contrite? The older gentleman smiled and responded with “point taken.” He asked me to pray and I left the room. He was still smiling as I left. 

In verses 5-6, God turns his attention to the remnant. Those who have remained faithful, and were called His servants in chapter 65. 
From the worldly side of things, the remnant were seen as lowly, powerless and were easily victimized by those in power. God wants them to realize that ultimately the lowly have a powerful thing going for them, that is God himself. God will be the one to vindicate them by calling those who use their power in the temple for themselves His enemies and His enemies will receive what they deserve. 

The process of going from judgement and destruction to hope and abundance continues. The next section, verses 7-14, describe Lady Zion. If we go back to chapter 1, God made a promise to Zion, verses 24-26

Therefore the Lord, the Lord Almighty,
    the Mighty One of Israel, declares:
“Ah! I will vent my wrath on my foes
    and avenge myself on my enemies.
I will turn my hand against you;
    I will thoroughly purge away your dross
    and remove all your impurities.

I will restore your leaders as in days of old,
    your rulers as at the beginning.
Afterward you will be called
    the City of Righteousness,
    the Faithful City.”

The dross has been purged away, instead of being a harlot, Zion has become the Faithful City, a mother of nations. Isaiah uses the image of a fruitful mother to remind us of all of the places where barrenness and childlessness were previously alluded. Again, we need to remember the context of which this was written. The pagan nations around them were constantly performing fertility rituals as there was a critical need to maintain the fertility of their fields and their wombs. This was their way of maintaining life instead of death. 
But Isaiah steps in and declares that the only real life comes from God, as a gift, in response to surrender and obedience. Notice, Isaiah describes God’s giving, not as a “tit for tat” fashion, but from the world’s perspective, all out of proportion as to what we have done. Think about it, humanly speaking humans meet their own needs through hard work and pain, like giving birth. But God’s gifts are like childbirth without labor. Isaiah tells us that God’s gifts come to us, not by what we do, but by where we are in position to our relationship with God. Isaiah uses the image of a nursing baby. Babies can do nothing to satisfy their own needs, but in absolute dependence receive what has been provided. 

What is the outcome of such absolute dependence? Verse 12 tells us rest, rejoicing, wholeness and peace. This is encouragement. 
For those who have experienced the weight of their sin, lifted, by no power of their own, but by coming to God, in repentant faith, believing that God can do something about it is like that of a child sitting on a mother’s lap. Things are not hopeless, all is not lost, the thing that weighs us down most can be recovered from. This is comfort. 

Today’s verses end with a reminder, judgement is never God’s last word, but neither is hope without conditions. Isaiah does not leave the Israelites sitting in the mother’s lap without reminding them of the reality of judgment. Verse 14 tells us that the Lord’s hand “will be made known to His servants,”  “but His fury will be shown to His foes.” 
A good question at this point would be, 
“Am I a servant or a foe?”

In order to answer this question, today’s Scripture tells us we are either humble or rebellious. I contend there are two types of rebels. 
And their difference is based on humility or arrogance. Isaiah describes the type of rebel who tries to create “their own way.” For this type of rebel, it’s not that other ways are necessarily bad, it’s just that they aren’t willing to listen or follow them, because they are determined to have their own way. This is where arrogance steps in and says, “Even if it kills me, I will do what I want.” According to today’s Scripture, that is precisely what will happen. Arrogance does kill, on a variety of levels, it kills relationships, especially the one with God, it kills families, it kills children, it kills companies. Isaiah calls us to humility. 

The type of humility Paul describe in Romans 12, 
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.  

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 

This is where the “good rebel” comes into play. When one steps up to rebel against others being demeaned or oppressed by arrogant authorities. This is when the “rebellion” or the refusal to submit, has nothing to do with “lifting up oneself” or showing that “I won’t be pushed around,” but more to do with making sure others are not mistreated or abused. Humility is not a sense of weakness, in fact, it is quite the opposite. True humility is the ability to forget about oneself because of a deep sense of worth and security, which is found only in Christ. Others may get the praise and perks, but the truly humble are okay with that, because they realize praise and perks are not what really matters. 

Which brings us to the thought of who supplies your needs? The Bible teaches us something of a paradox in answering this question. Isaiah reminds us that to grab, is to lose and to let go, is to get. When we make our abundance the goal of our existence, whatever abundance we gain, is ultimately an abundance of nothing. We get what we deserve. Looking back at Isaiah chapter 47 Lady Babylon looks out on a world she has reduced to nothing and her response is found in verses 8 and 10, “I am, and there is none besides me.” She realizes too late, that by gaining everything, she has gained only ruins, basically, nothing.

In the big picture, what is most important? 

We arrogant humans believe that somehow, we are complete, with our own resources we are able to supply our own needs. 
Until we can’t. 

The idea of surrendering our needs to God and resting in His lap as a nursing baby, seems counter cultural. We are taught to be an individual, self sufficient. How do we reconcile the two? 

I have some suggestions:

First we need to recognize our grasping, self-sufficient tendencies. You can’t change something you don’t own. 
Then we need to take these tendencies to God and ask Him to make us sensitive to all the ways we try to satisfy our needs without depending on Him. Be sure to look at the religious rituals we have developed. 
Ask God to remind you of the real  needs we have. 
Finally, we need to learn to wait patiently for God to show us exactly how He is going to meet those needs. 
Usually God uses the ordinary means He has already given us. The difference will be, we will recognize that we are not the one in charge. 
It is God who enables us to provide. It only takes one tragedy, an accident, a fire, to wake us up to that realization. Recognizing God is the one giving us abilities means we will no longer praise ourselves for what we have accomplished. 

Then there will be times when God meets our needs in ways that are completely beyond our own capacity. Those are the times we stand in awe and recognize just how little we are in charge. Those are moments when we realize that beyond a doubt that God indeed cares for us and has our back. 

Isaiah reminds us of these truths. 

For those who confess that God is indeed creator of the universe and humbly accept His ways, they will enjoy fellowship with Him, now and for eternity. 

We also need to realize we do not supply our own needs. Instead, we need to surrender our needs to God, and rest in His lap as serenely as a nursing child. 

Both truths are counter-cultural and difficult. 
Surrender is the only way. 

Let’s pray.